Nutritional support of detoxification

Even the healthiest of people can suffer from toxicity due to the amount of exposure we all have to toxic substances.  We are exposed to toxins through the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink as well as through our skins.

It is becoming more and more evident that toxin exposure is directly associated with the cause of a whole host of diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia and atherosclerosis.  A whole myriad of symptoms may be associated with environmental toxins including fertility problems, mood swings, immune system depression, contact dermatitis, headaches, joint pain, learning disorders, memory loss, and muscle pain and weakness.

What are toxins?  The word toxin does not describe a specific class of compounds, but rather something that can cause harm to the body.  Some toxins or toxic substances include industrial chemicals and combustion pollutants (e.g. halogenated hydrocarbons), pesticides, endocrine disruptors (e.g. plastics), toxic metals, and food additives, preservatives and drugs.

How does the body remove toxins? Water soluble toxins are removed in the urine, but fat soluble ones attached themselves to the lipids in the cell membranes, where they can carry out their toxic effects.  To remove these toxins the body has a system that converts the fat soluble toxins to water soluble molecules, so that they can be directly excreted through the renal or biliary routes – this is called the detoxification system and includes two steps, Phase I bioactivation and Phase II conjugation. 

Phase I prepares a toxin for the binding of a water soluble group (makes a site where the water soluble molecule can bind to); Phase II binds the toxin to a water soluble molecule, thereby making it non-toxic and helping it to be excreted.  These two activities work together and therefore must be balanced.  Phase II must be able to keep up with the Phase I production of the reactive intermediates (these intermediates are often more toxic in this state) or an imbalance in the production of reactive substance will occur, and this is when damage to the cells happens.

Nutritional support of detoxification

Dietary ingredients that can support the reactions of the enzymes for the Phase I system include niacin (fish, wheat, whole grains), and dietary antioxidants can help the tissue from damage that may occur if an imbalance of Phase I and II occurs.

The Phase II reactions require a lot of energy.  Nutrients that support energy production include the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and, pantothenic acid,as well as magnesium.  These nutrients are generally found in whole grains and leafy vegetables.  In addition, nutrients that help protect the body from oxidative stress, such as vitamins C and E, zinc, selenium, and copper, are also beneficial.

Dietary fibre supports healthy bowel functions therefore supporting the intestine cell barriers which help to decrease the toxic load, but most importantly fiber binds toxins and prevents them from entering the body.  About 25% of the detoxification process occurs in the intestines.

Adequate intake of water is essential to maintaining healthy kidney function and promoting urinary excretion of toxins already in circulation.

Having constant blood glucose levels is also important.  Interestingly, diabetes is one of the diseases associated with altered Phase I activities.  Since new enzymes continuously need to be made, adequate intake of carbohydrates, high quality protein and energy supportive fats (specifically medium chain triglycerides) are also essential.  Fasting is not ideal as it will over stimulate the Phase I enzymes, as well as decrease levels of Phase II co-factors. 

Many phytonutrients that protect our bodies from toxin damage can produce the genes for Phase II enzymes, which promote the production of the binding enzymes and result in more Phase II activities. Phytonutrients that are particularly beneficial are ellagic acid (found in pomegranate and many berries), catechins from green tea and grapes, and the glucosinolates found in crucifers, such as watercress and broccoli.

Some phytonutrients support Phase I activity, such as indole-3carbinol from broccoli. However over-activation of Phase I is a concern, which has been shown to happen with smoking and heterocyclic amines formed on charbroiled beef.

In summary, minimising your exposure to toxins is only one part of a detoxification programme. Targeted nutrition providing the full spectrum of supportive cofactors and modulators for balanced detoxification, and support for energy production and excretion may optimise balanced detoxification and promote optimal health throughout life. 

(Written by registered dietician Kim Hoffmann of The Lean Aubergine Dietetic Services)

- (Health24, February 2011) 

Read more:

Detox diets: healthy or harmful?
The liver: your detox organ
On detox

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